Eco populism and ‘natural’ vs. ‘unnatural’ nutrition

A not very uncommon line of thinking is that ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ food and drinks are good and synthetic, artificial and refined food and drinks are bad. In real life in the current global/Western society, this dichotomy is rather hard to disentangle in terms of content, even if it is generally true or not in terms of health, and that is simply because of a lot of foodstuff and products are more or less synthetic and/or refined. Many of these things are linked to dyestuff, preservatives and additives of various sorts, and even products which in the first stage are natural/organic are very often, to some extent, affected by these.

Since this is widely known, although far from easy to have a bird’s eye view of, a lot of people discuss these things in the social media. Like many other phenomena that lay people take interest in, however, the debates unfortunately tend to be reduced to simplistic confirmation bias and skewed arguments. In this regard one can call this general inclination to value organic/natural food and drinks, and hence to dislike unnatural, non-organic and artificial food and drinks, eco populism. One finds similar ways of thinking in fitness too.

Eco populists may often be right to question companies which produce and/or sell foodstuffs and promote their products as healthy. Suspicion is a key to critical thinking and hence to knowledge. But nevertheless, I think that these things, both more generally and with regard to particularities, are much more complex than that. Even if the grand nutritional dichotomy between natural and unnatural would mostly hold up after scrutiny – it is a main difference between a regular banana and a counterpart which has been produced in a laboratory – it still does neglect the basic fact that much in our world is about chemistry. Food and drinks, like all other things, consist of elements, and since people with vast expertise in chemistry (and genetics) know a great deal about how these elements and other chemical components work, they might be able to produce ‘unnatural’ nutrition which may be healthy; sometimes even healthier than the natural stuff. Much medicine is ‘unnatural’ in the sense that the products are not to be found in nature, but is at the same natural in the sense that those medicines consist of elements. And elements are part of our world. Naturally. Even if you mix them (which can be good or bad).

For this reason I am not at all upset about the idea of chemically produced food and drinks, straight out of the lab. (To the extent that I truly care about the suffering of animals due to the meat and dairy product markets, I think that this might be the only chance to seriously reduce that kind industrial and logistic torment.) As long as it is properly tested, I am not principally against it.

That is also the case for the ‘super broccoli’ which have been debated in Swedish media quite recently. Two studies show – this one and this one – that it does not have any deleterious effects, which of course the eco populists have not cared to notice since their confirmation biases have already made it a closed case: the lab food is dangerous and has to be stopped!

The debate is sometimes even more skewed in regard to drugs and narcotics. Yes, some drugs are indeed natural/organic in the narrower sense. And yes, diet coke is partly unnatural/unorganic. But some of these drugs can also seriously fuck you up. Hence, I prefer my unnatural close-to-zero calorie drink in this regard.

The main conclusion is that one constantly has to distinguish and disentangle the ‘natural’ which is good and healthy from the ‘natural’ which is bad and unhealthy. The same goes for the ‘unnatural’ stuff.